Dave Micus, Plum Island Sound

March 13th, 2006

The Witness
By Dave Micus

Like most people in my age bracket (over the hill but too young to retire), I'm not very thrilled with my current profession. Yes, I work at one of the premiere institutions of higher education in the entire world (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), and yes, I'm well paid, but lately the work hasn't been very gratifying. In a nut shell, I'd rather be fishing.

Somehow working fishing into my current job description hasn't been easy. I have managed to teach a fly fishing class, which is in the process of becoming a regular subject offered through the Physical Education Department (allowing me to say, when asked, "I teach at MIT"), but that accounts for only a very few hours in a year of forty hour weeks. I can walk to the polluted Charles River at lunch and fish for the large mutant carp that somehow survive in the sludge, but it just doesn't appeal to me, and the thought of handling a fish that comes from that toxic slue gives me a shiver down the spine.

On rare occasions I have to travel for my job, either to attend a conference or to testify in a court case as a witness for the government. The conferences don't tend to be in prime fishing locales (the last one was in New York City), and the court cases can be anywhere. These cases inevitably involve fraudulent business dealings by unscrupulous individuals selling amazing breakthroughs in technology and claiming to have advanced degrees from MIT-usually in programs that we don't even offer. It is always a whirlwind junket for me, two days and one night including travel, and not usually to fishing Mecca (another trip was to Columbia, South Carolina, a very charming city but much too far from the ocean). But now and again the stars and planets align and I get lucky, and this was the case recently when I was subpoenaed to testify in a trial in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Preparing for these cases is fairly easy, a routine records search that determines whether or not an individual attended MIT, but this case involved additional research on my part. After determining that the individual did not go to MIT (no surprise there), I had to go directly to Map Quest to see just how far I would be from Flats Dude (alas, it was well over 200 miles) and to post a question on various bulletin boards for advice on fishing this area. When packing I made sure to include the seven piece travel rod, a reel, some leader material and my fly wallet.

I booked the earliest flight I could, 6:45 am, so as to spend the most time in the sunshine state as possible. But this meant arriving at the airport by 5:45, which meant I had to be at the airport shuttle station by 5:15, which meant I had to get up at 4:00 am, but that is what we do to fish. I was told to book a room at the Airport Sheraton, but, when I called it was filled, so I was moved to the Yankee Clipper, a Sheraton hotel located directly on the beach. Seeing the photos, I planned to sit on my deck sipping pina coladas, watching for breaking fish, then grabbing my rod and running to catch them.

When I arrived at my room I noted that my view wasn't of the blue Atlantic, but of the alley and service entrance to the hotel, but I couldn't complain as it was paid for by your tax dollars. And it was less than a five-minute walk to the beach, with the temperature, 72 degrees, 50 degrees warmer than what I had left behind in New England. I had to remain in contact until 4:30 pm to see if I'd get called to court, and, being one of two people in all of North America who doesn't have a cell phone, that meant staying in the room. But at the stroke of 4:30 I put on my trunks, grabbed the rod, and headed to the beach.

There was no one bathing, as the water was too cold, but cold to a Floridian and cold to a northern Yankee are two very different things. The water was probably in the high sixties, which felt like a Massachusetts hot tub to me. While the water was fine, the wind was another story-twenty to thirty mile gusts directly in my face. I could still manage a cast between blows, but not of the distance I would have liked. To add injury to insult, the reel I brought with me, an inexpensive Redington, froze up for some reason and I cursed myself for not bringing one of my better reels, either the Albright or the Islander. The reel problem proved not to be a real problem, as there were no fish to be seen, no less caught. I returned to my room and managed to disassemble the reel with a pair of nail clippers and a pen. A nut had worked loose, and I was able to fix it so that at least the spool would turn on the frame. That done, I decided to go to dinner.

I walked the marinas along the inter-coastal waterway, where half million and million dollar yachts are dwarfed by ten million dollar yachts (what kind of money does one have to be able to spend ten million on a boat?). And while that was interesting, something even more intriguing caught my eye: in the crystal clear waters I could see huge schools of snook meandering among the pilings.

Right beneath the "No Fishing From The Dock" signs.

A little further on the mate from a charter boat was cleaning king mackerel for his sports, and as he threw the heads and entrails into the brine huge jack crevalle were feeding in frenzy. These fish were big enough to swallow the mackerel heads, much larger than my fist, in one gulp, and I stood beneath another "No Fishing From The Dock" sign, thinking that, if I arrived early enough in the morning I might be able to throw a cast or two to these fish. If I were caught, I'd pretend I didn't speak English. After a delicious dinner of crab cakes and snapper, I retired to my room, set the alarm for four a.m. and dozed off with visions of giant fish dancing in my head.

I awoke at 7:30 to the alarm, which had been buzzing for three and a half hours. The early departure from the day before had caught up to me, and I slept right through my wake up call. At 8:00 the prosecutor called to say that an FBI agent would be at the hotel at 8:45 to pick me up for court. I made a quick run to the beach, sans rod, to have a look. Of course there wasn't a whisper of the wind and the water was as calm as could be. Of course.

Testifying in court is always a hurry up and wait situation. I struck up conversation with a fellow witness who had been there since the previous Friday, or five whole days. His testimony was rather complex; mine would be simple, and I hoped to get in and out. My flight wasn't until 6:45 that evening, and I planned to get in an afternoon's fishing.

But the noon hour rolled around and we broke for lunch. I ate a tasty Cuban pressed sandwich (man, I love everything about Florida!) and returned to court and waiting. Three o'clock came, then four, and still no call for my testimony. An FBI agent pulled me aside and said I might have to stay another day. He took my flight number and hotel, and said he'd make the necessary arrangements.

Normally this would be dreadful news; instead I was already planning on going to sleep at 8 p.m. and waking up at four to fish four hours in the morning before court. Four thirty rolled around, then four forty-five. In fifteen minutes I would be heading out for more crab cakes prior to a good night's sleep and, I hoped, a great morning fishing.

But the best laid plans of mice and fishermen often go awry. At 4:55 they called me into the courtroom, and I swore to tell the truth as long as they didn't question me about fishing. The questions were simple and to the point - first my credentials were established, then the defendant's credentials were unestablished. The defense chose not to cross examine. The whole thing took five minutes.

I was driven to the airport by another FBI agent who, though I begged, wouldn't turn on the flashing lights in his unmarked car. In three hours I was back in the sub freezing temperatures typical of February in Massachusetts and a three month wait until the striped bass returned from the Chesapeake. ~ Dave

About Dave:

Dave Micus lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He is an avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor. He writes a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats) and teaches a fly fishing course at Boston University.

Previous Dave Micus Columns

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